Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 9 in D major (1909-1910) [84:00]
Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester/Claudio Abbado
ec. live, 14 April 2004, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Rome
Video director: Bob Coles
Picture: NTSC/16:9, 1080i Full HD
Sound: PCM stereo, dts-HD Master Audio 5.1
Region: 0 (worldwide)
EUROARTS 205 4004 BLU-RAY [84:00]

It seems entirely apt that I should review this on the day Claudio Abbado is awarded the Gramophone Lifetime Achievement Award for 2012. What a career it’s been, his many fine Mahler recordings for DG crowned by the definitive DVD/Blu-rays from Lucerne. Euroarts have released a box of the first seven symphonies, Rückert-Lieder and Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto (review) but the Lucerne Ninth - and the yet-to-be-released Eighth - have been assigned to Accentus. Given the praise heaped on that Swiss cycle it’s no surprise that the Rome Ninth has been somewhat marginalized or is there another reason for its neglect?
Past experience of the GMJO, last seen/heard in a terrific Dvořák Ninth with Václav Neumann (review) confirms they are a committed and engaging orchestra more than capable of delivering a decent Mahler 9, not least with their illustrious founder on the podium. The audience is extremely enthusiastic and Abbado gets the Andante comodo under way in patrician style. Tempi are generally fine but, oh, the recorded balance is a rude shock; those massed strings could etch glass, the tuttis are murky and the timps are barely audible above the bedlam.
Hardly an auspicious start; and it doesn’t get any better. The Ländler-driven second movement is reasonably well sprung but you’d be forgiven for thinking there was a platoon of double basses on the stage, such is the preponderance of bass weight here. Mahler’s wonderfully aerated textures are nowhere to be seen, and the music chugs along to heaven knows where. I really don’t think the orchestra are to blame, for the reading itself is adequate, if not distinguished; no, the fault lies firmly with the audio engineers, who’ve effectively torpedoed this performance.
The opening of the Rondo-Burleske is narrowly focused and aggressive - rather like a poor mono recording - and that spells disaster where essential transparency and detail are concerned. As for that extraordinary finale, which unwinds like a Yeatsian gyre, its centre cannot hold - albeit for the wrong reasons. Buried in there somewhere is a passable Mahler 9, but we’re not allowed to hear it. Really, this has to be one of the most disappointing Blu-rays I’ve encountered; even the visuals - ostensibly 1080i Full HD - aren’t that sharp. Quite why Euroarts chose to reissue this performance on a premium-priced format - and a cruelly revealing one at that - is a mystery to me.
A no-hoper, thanks to appalling sonics; no wonder the DVD sank without trace.
Dan Morgan  

see also review by Jonathan Woolf of DVD release (2054009)

Masterwork Index: Mahler 9

A no-hoper, thanks to appalling sonics.